Following a well-planned seven-hour operation, the City of Cape Town’s Environmental Management Department, together with the contractor, removed the last remains of the Commodore II shipwreck from the Diep River in Milnerton on Friday 16 November 2018. The wreck weighed approximately 21 tons and is estimated to be about 14 metres in length and 6,8 metres in width. The wreck was relocated to City-owned land near the Lagoon Beach Hotel.

After months of planning and teamwork between various role-players, the final remains of the old lady Commodore II shipwreck were successfully relocated during a seven–hour operation on Friday 16 November. 

A 130-ton mobile crane with a spreader beam and slings lifted the wreck, which weighed approximately 21 tons and is estimated to be about 14 metres in length and 6,8 metres in width. The wreck remained intact throughout the operation and it was transported on a low-bed truck to its resting place, a grass embankment owned by the City, near the Lagoon Beach Hotel.

The public are able to view the remains of the shipwreck.

Context to the operation

Since the Commodore II shipwreck was uncovered during a winter storm in 2008, there were various attempts to relocate the old lady’s remains as it could pose a danger to boats in the river and it was considered as important historical evidence. 

The recent relocation of the Commodore shipwreck was therefore included in the scope of work and budget for the rehabilitation and restoration of the historical Milnerton Wooden Bridge because of its close proximity to the bridge.

The bridge dates back to 1901 and was built by the Royal Engineers to provide entrance to a cannon trench. It was declared a National Monument by the old National Monuments Council on 17 July 1987.

During the months of preparations for the operation, the City’s Environmental Management Department had to obtain a permit from the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) to allow the relocation because the remains are of a wreck that is more than 60 years old and SAHRA considers it to be worthy of conservation. The Commodore II is seen as archaeological material under the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA).

Brief history of the Commodore II

The Commodore II was built in 1919 in Seattle in the United States. She is believed to have featured in the 1935 American blockbuster film Mutiny on the Bounty, with Clark Gable.

Apart from this, she was also used to ferry coal during World War 2. Shortly after, the grandson of President Paul Kruger bought the schooner and sailed to Buenos Aires in Argentina. It is here where her fortunes seemed to take a turn for the worse.

When going up the River Plate, the ship was grounded on a mud bank and the damage to the hull took 40 days to repair. The Commodore II also caught fire but fortunately it was extinguished quickly.

On her return, disaster struck again when the boat was hit by a heavy storm which left the mast, rigging and sails all severely damaged. Emergency repairs led the vessel and crew safely back to Cape Town, where the ship was stripped and the remains left to the mercy of Milnerton's breakers.

Relocation site

‘I would really like to commend all the role-players, especially our City officials, who have been very involved and committed to relocating the final remains of the Commodore II shipwreck. This mission really had two purposes: firstly, to ensure the safety of the public who are using the river while they are on their boats; and secondly, to relocate the important historical evidence.

‘We do believe this is an important part of history which is worth preserving for generations to come. As such, going forward, there will be an information board on the site to educate the public around this schooner and its story.

‘Finally, I want to thank the public for their patience over the many months and while this operation was under way. We appreciate your support,’ said Alderman Felicity Purchase, the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Transport and Urban Development.